GSN Review: El Guapo Bitters & Tonic Syrup

1373647549My cocktailian home away from home is New Orleans.  So much about the city has to do with cocktail history that it just makes sense that a new company specializing in bitters and syrups has established itself there.  El Guapo started out as a supplier for a local bar in the Vieux Carré, saw the potential to reach a wider audience and grew from there.  Interestingly, the owner Scot Mattox (an ex-Marine) named the company after his military nickname which literally means “handsome”.  He also donates 10% of their revenue to the Semper Fi Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project.  Definitely two worthwhile causes, and another reason to support the company.

Chicory-Pecan Bitters – First of all, the scent of these bitters is extremely appetizing.  It encapsulates New Orleans in every way.  Loose, flavorful and vivacious.  The flavor is much milder than I expected, resembling a cup of coffee at Cafe Du Monde.  It definitely pushes a coffee/chicory blend with a warm richness to it.  The main issue I have is that there is NO alcohol in these bitters.  This may seem like a small thing, but virtually all bitters are in a neutral alcohol base which allows the flavors to be intensified.  I’m not sure that these will lend much more than a hint of the intended flavor when they become diluted in a cocktail.  That being said, you can certainly add some grain spirit to these at home and come to a compromise.  These definitely have potential as some of the best smelling and tasting coffee based bitters I’ve tried.  GSN Rating: B-

British Colonial Style Tonic Syrup – An opaque reddish-brown.  Quite tart with a lot of citrus that seems to outshine the typical bitterness of the quinine.  You won’t need to add a squeeze of lime to your drink with this syrup.  The flavor is well-balanced and quite bright.  It works very well with a standard London Dry style gin.  More juniper driven gins will also benefit from this style of tonic syrup, whereas gins with less character will have to take a back seat.  I like this a lot, very easy to drink. I suggest using a ratio of 0.75 oz. syrup/2 oz. gin/4 oz. carbonated water.  GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: El Guapo Bitters

GSN Review: Hella Bitters

l_153276hbbundlepackHella Bitters based in Brooklyn, NY has one goal in mind.  They “want to change the way people think about their beverages.”  Intentionality and craftsmanship are evident in their two bitters.  Started as a hobby on the west coast by three friends, and initially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, they are now firmly established in the rapidly growing community of bitters manufacturers in NYCBut, you won’t find a location called Hella anywhere within the five boroughs.  Hella is bay area, California slang for “very”.  Hella clever.

Hella Bitter Citrus – The citrus flavor supports a more dominant herb and spice portfolio.  These are quite tasty and will liven up just about any spirit.  There’s a fresh, almost gastronomical flavor that is somewhat sweeter than many orange bitters.  As a side note, the hole in the dropper bottle is extremely small, so you may have to shake it a few times to equal the amount of bitters you would normally get from other manufacturers.  GSN Rating: A-

Hella Bitter Aromatic – Molasses notes along with cinnamon seem to be the headliners here. After a while, there seems to be an almost root beer overtone. Very well balanced and intense, perfect for dark rum along with bourbon and rye whisky cocktails.  Tasty and quite well done.  GSN Rating: A

For more information about Hella Bitters click here.

GSN Review: Cocktail Kingdom Bitters

imagesIf you still live under a rock somewhere, then you probably haven’t heard of Cocktail Kingdom. Purveyors of ultra high quality barware, replicas of rare cocktail manuals, bitters and syrups; they have now launched their own line of cocktail bitters.  The falernum bitters were crafted in conjunction with Blair “Trader Tiki” Reynolds, while the wormwood bitter recipe was spearheaded by SeanMike Whipkey from the Scofflaw’s Den website.

177995-cocktail-kingdom-falernum-B1Barrel Aged Falernum Bitters – Falernum is one of those flavors that rarely makes an appearance outside of tiki and faux tropical drinks.  However, that doesn’t mean that it’s inappropriate in let’s say, a rum old-fashioned, vodka martini, or even a margarita.  The thing about traditional falernum is that it combines flavors that are sour, nutty and spicy in a highly sweetened base.  The Cocktail Kingdom bitters take away the sugar and leave you with nothing but the basics.  The initial taste is of bitter and sour lime, along with just the slightest hint of almond.  But, the real killer here is the clove.  It just nails it, and adds the perfect touch of intrigue.  These bitters fill a gap in the field.  GSN Rating: A+

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177994-cocktail-kingdon-wormwood-B1Wormwood Bitters – At first, the thought of ingesting wormwood seems counter-intuitive.  Yet, there is a historical precedent for these.  When absinthe was illegal, a few drops of wormwood bitters added to an anise flavored liqueur would approximate the flavor of absinthe.  Wormwood is known to be one of the bitterest plants on the earth, so it makes sense that it would tone down the relative sweetness of a liqueur.  These bitters are intensely bitter in conjunction with an amazing load of peppery spice.  Try these in a Sazerac (along with Peychaud’s) and see what happens.  These will also add an interesting twist to lighter style whiskies from Ireland and Canada in cocktails.    GSN Rating: B+

For more information about Cocktail Kingdom go here.

GSN Review: The Bitter Truth Bitters & Flower Waters

PrintGermany’s The Bitter Truth Company began with just two products; an Orange Bitters and an Old Time Aromatic Bitters.  At the time, very few bars carried anything other than Angostura Bitters, and even then there was only an aromatic version (they now also make orange bitters, due in part I believe to the success of entrepreneurs like The Bitter Truth).  But, that’s all in the not so distant past, as The Bitter Truth now carries a full range of bitters.  They may not cure all, but they certainly make a lovely and welcome addition to your bar’s cocktail arsenal.

Here are my reviews of some of their latest bitters, and two flower waters.  A previous GSN review of their other bitters is here.

111245-Bitters-The-Bitter-Truth-Peach-Bitters-20cl-800x1200Peach Bitters – Intensely peach forward with a sour tang that adds just the right amount of acidity and depth.  There seems to be an assortment of baking spices as well that linger in the back of the throat.  These make quite an interesting alternative to orange bitters, and work wonders with bourbon, rye and gin based cocktails.
GSN Rating: A

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Grapefruit-Bitters-USAGrapefruit Bitters – Quite bitter with a lot of pith character more than grapefruit juice.  Very dry and intense.  Not much is needed to add a sharp and noticeable edge to a cocktail.  I wish there was more of a fruit flavor in here.  That being said, these work well with vodka, blanco tequila and even light rums to bring out a more intriguing character in each of these spirits when used in cocktails.
GSN Rating: B-

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Tonic-BittersThomas Henry Tonic Bitters – The flavor of quinoa bark is pronounced along with several citrus botanicals.  The overall effect is quite intriguing, with a wide spectrum of flavors that percolate over the tongue.  I quite like these as a more apothecarian alternative to other citrus fruit based bitters.  An extra dash or two of these in a G&T will lessen the sweetness of the tonic, and in a martini, they shine.  Get a bottle while you can!
GSN Rating: A+

the-bitter-truth-orange-flower-waterOrange Flower Water – There aren’t too many orange flower waters available in my part of the world, but I have three to compare with.  The Bitter Truth’s version is amazingly floral and flavorful.  Really the best I’ve every had when tasted side by side with the others in my collection.  The gentle orange quality is remarkably floral and right on the mark in terms of intensity.  Well done!
GSN Rating: A

roseRose Water – Rose is one of those flavors that often gets overlooked in cocktails, and yet fits in with many of the aromatic herbal ingredients we don’t give a second thought to.  Gin, dry vermouth, Chartreuse, Benedictine, and so on.  Not only does the flavor of rise work well with these ingredients, but it also adds real interest to vodka, blanco tequila and champagne.  The version by The Bitter Truth is subtle and yet quite natural.  Just a few drops added to the top of a drink will give it a sultry nose.
GSN Rating: B

For more information go to: The Bitter Truth

GSN Review: The Bitter Truth Spirits & Liqueurs

PrintThe guys at The Bitter Truth are two of the busiest people in the spirits industry.  In just seven years, they have increased their product line to include not only several classic bitters styles, but also spirits, liqueurs and flower waters.  Every bottle feels just right, looks sharp and holds some amazing flavors.  GSN recently received a “care package” which contained samples of their latest offerings.  I in turn, offer my reviews to you dear reader.

gin-the-bitter-truth-pink-ginSpiced Navy Pink Gin (80 proof)
Visual: Delicate rose quartz.
Nose: Light juniper floral scent with subtle overtones of classic aromatic bitters.
Taste: Quite delicate and almost feminine in character.  The juniper is gentle and the bitters add a deeper and darker herbality which plays well with the gin base.  There is a slightly sweet and creamy mouthfeel not unlike Plymouth gin.
Finish: A lively and elegant finish which leaves you wanting more.
Overall: A lovely gin for classic martinis and G&T’s.  Very, very well done.
GSN Rating: A

ElderflowerElderflower Liqueur (44 proof)
Visual: Very light pale yellow.
Nose: Sweet, almost grape-like character.
Taste: Very sweet and fruity.  The elderflower dominates the spirit and sugar base.  The mouthfeel is light and not too thick and syrupy.
Finish: Lasting sweetness with slight spicy notes that add intrigue.
Overall: A great and versatile liqueur that will add wonderful fruity notes to any cocktail.  The essence of summer in a bottle.
GSN Rating: A

FalernumGolden Falernum (36 proof)
Visual: Warm sunny gold.
Nose: Intriguingly fruity like tropical punch with brief high notes of baking spices.
Taste: Quite sweet with a limeade overtone.  The spice plays a role in the background, but grows in strength as time goes on.  The ginger is particularly warming and yet doesn’t add too much heat.  I don’t pick up much in the way of almond.
Finish:  Medium long with a lasting presence of having just eaten key lime pie.
Overall: Definitely a more subtle and refined version of the few alcoholic falernums I’ve had.  Worthy of craft tiki cocktails.
GSN Rating: B+

imagesElixier Digestive Liqueur (60 proof)
Visual: Very dark chocolate-brown.
Nose: Herbal and vegetal, but not unpleasant.
Taste: Slightly bitter, but not to extremes.  There’s a nice balance of sweetness to offset any potential bitter intensity.
Finish: Fairly long with a flavor reminiscent of root beer barrel or horehound candies.
Overall: Very much in keeping with traditional digestives, and one that is infinitely more pleasant to taste than many other German herbal liquors.  No need to chill, unless you so desire.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: The Bitter Truth

GSN Review: Tuthilltown Bitter Frost Basement Bitters

basement-bittersIt makes sense that a distillery would make their own bitters.  After all, the Angostura company has been doing it for almost 200 years, so why not an American craft distiller?  Thus, we finally have bitters crafted by Tuthilltown Distillery located in downstate New York.  Made from unaged rye spirit, sarsaparilla, maple syrup and fourteen other herbs and spices, the bitters also benefit from aging in ex-rye barrels.  Unique and very much in the spirit of Tuthilltown’s other products.

Bitter Frost Basement Bitters (92 proof)
The rye character is a welcome change from most bitters that simply use a neutral flavored spirit.  There is a slightly sweet and spicy essence here that underlies the more herbal and spice driven characteristics.  Notes of cassia bark, allspice, and even sandalwood seem to be here.  Overall, it’s a lighter aromatic bitters than most, but at the same time this allows the individual flavors room to shine in whatever spirit they’re dashed in.  Perfect for Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, these will also find a good home in tropical drinks that call for aromatic bitters.

GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Tuthilltown Spirits

GSN Review: AZ Bitters

5a3db7885f20df69dc304d6223364273The world of bitters has exploded in the past few years, with more and more unique flavors coming on to the scene.  What initially intrigued me about AZ Bitters, is that their company is truly a labor of love.  Started by a husband and wife who explored cocktail culture on the east coast, they eventually settled in Chandler, Arizona where they founded the first bitters company in the state.  Using unusual flavor profiles like fig, rare ingredients like saffron, and a process from beginning to end literally done by hand; they are craftsmen in the truest sense of the word.

They currently have three bitters in their portfolio, which I was sent for review.

Figgy Pudding – Slightly sweet with a definite fig overtone.  Notes of baking spices, richly dense Christmas pudding and even hard sauce, Instantly reminded me of the holidays.  The profile is not overly bitter, but is quite balanced with just enough of an edge to it.  Truly unique and mouthwatering, these bitters are perfect for brown spirits like rum, bourbon and anejo tequilas.    GSN Rating: A

Más Mole – Notes of cocoa quickly give way some some serious heat.  There are three different kinds of dried chiles used in the blend, and it shows.  Despite a lot of warmth in the front of the palate, the cocoa aspect acts as a nice counterbalance and supports the whole shebang.  You will only need a drop or two in a cocktail to notice the difference these will make.  The obvious choice of spirit is tequila, but these also work well in drinks calling for creme de cacao, coffee liqueur or cream-based dessert liqueurs. GSN Rating:  B

Orange Sunshine – Juicy orange almost immediately gives way to a more traditional dry and bitter citrus peel taste.  Quite compact and intense, these are the most traditional bitters in AZ’s line up.  What separates them from the competition is a heavier use of atypical spices like fennel and saffron.  The overall effect is of orange spice cake.  Definitely different from what you’re using now and because of the unusual spice notes, these make a great partner for gin, rye and spiced rums.  GSN Rating:  B

For more information go to: AZ Bitters Lab